The Basics: Overview
When you're taking care of a loved one, make time to care for yourself, too. The emotional and physical stress of caregiving can cause health problems.
What is a caregiver?
A caregiver is someone who helps a family member, friend, or neighbor who is sick or has a disability. An informal or family caregiver often helps a loved one with basic daily tasks.
You may be a caregiver if you regularly help someone with:
- Grocery shopping
- Getting dressed
- Taking and keeping track of medicine
- Medical care, like keeping wounds clean or giving shots
- Cooking food
- Transportation, like car rides to appointments
- Managing services, like talking to doctors or paying bills
About 1 in 4 Americans are caregivers. Most caregivers also have other jobs and spend an average of 24 hours a week caring for a loved one.
The Basics: Caregiver Stress
The stress of caregiving can lead to health problems.
When you're caring for a loved one, it can be hard to take care of your own health. Caregivers are more at risk for colds and the flu. They're also more likely to have long-term health problems – like arthritis, diabetes, or depression.
Here are some signs you may have caregiver stress:
- Feeling angry or sad
- Feeling like it’s more than you can handle
- Feeling like you don't have time to care for yourself
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Having trouble eating, or eating too much
- Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
The good news is that you can lower your risk for health problems if you take care of yourself and get support.
Take Action: Physical Health
Take these steps to lower the stress of caregiving.
Take care of yourself.
Caregiving can be stressful. Stress can lead to problems like back pain and trouble sleeping. Taking care of yourself will give you the energy and strength to handle the demands of caregiving.
Take care of your body.
- Eat healthy to keep your body strong. Making smart food choices will help protect you from heart disease, bone loss, and high blood pressure. Learn how to eat healthy.
- Get active to give you more energy. Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, like walking fast or dancing. Find out how to get active.
- Take steps to prevent back pain, like keeping your back straight and bending your knees when you lift something heavy. Get tips for preventing back pain.
- Make sure you get enough sleep. Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Learn how to get enough sleep.
Take Action: Mental Health
Take care of your mental health.
- Find ways to manage stress. You can start by taking a few slow, deep breaths. Get more tips for managing stress.
- Do something for yourself. Set aside time each day to do something you enjoy. Try reading, listening to music, or talking to a friend.
- Ask a neighbor to visit with your loved one while you take a walk.
- Get support from others to help you cope with the emotional stress of caregiving.
It can also help to hear from other people who are caring for a loved one – their experiences may be similar to yours. Check out these stories from other caregivers.
Take Action: Get Support
Ask for help.
You don’t need to do it all yourself. Ask family members, friends, and neighbors to share caregiving tasks.
It’s also a good idea to find out about professional and volunteer services that can help:
- Check out these community-based services for older adults and caregivers – like transportation, meals, and caregiver support programs.
- Find respite services near you that can give you a break from caretaking.
- Learn about services and support groups for caregivers of veterans.
If you're taking care of someone with Alzheimer's disease:
- Find resources for Alzheimer's caregivers.
- Call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-272-3900.
It's also a good idea to learn about preparing for future health care needs.
And if you're feeling overwhelmed, talk with a doctor about depression.
Content last updated January 24, 2020
This information on support for caregivers is adapted from materials from the Administration on Aging and the Office on Women’s Health.
Aging Services Program Specialist
U.S. Administration on Aging